Rail firms invest £500,000 in ‘ABS for trains’ to tackle leaves on the tracks

Newly refurbished train from Greater Anglia.

Newly refurbished train from Greater Anglia. - Credit: Archant

Greater Anglia and Network Rail are joining forces to tackle the bane of most train commuters’ lives each autumn – the dreaded leaves on the track.

Wet weather and falling leaves causes the slippery problem on the rails every year, the mulch that sticks to the tracks compacted by train wheels into a Teflon-like layer.

It makes the rails as slick as black ice, causing the wheels to lose grip and in some cases become damaged.

To counter this, Network Rail and Greater Anglia have spent £500,000 on a new anti-lock braking system for all of its Class 156 trains called ‘Wheel Slide Protection’, much like ABS in cars, which judges whether the wheels are braking evenly.

When the wheels brake unevenly it causes what are known as ‘wheel flats’, an expensive and time consuming repair where the wheel must be reground on a lathe.


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A prototype Class 156 has been on the tracks since October 2016, including on the Marks Tey to Sudbury line where in 2015 many services were cancelled due to wheel flats. Today, the prototype’s wheels are still in great condition whereas other trains running the same line have visited the wheel lathe two or three times in that time.

Jamie Burles, Greater Anglia’s managing director said: “We are acutely aware of the frustration and inconvenience felt by our passengers when things go wrong, so we are pleased to be taking action in partnership with Network Rail, making additional preparations to protect train services during what is traditionally a difficult period on the railway.”

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Further measures have been put in place by Network Rail this autumn to combat the problem of slippery rails.

It has invested in specially-adapted Land Rovers nicknamed ‘Sand Rovers’ which will clean and treat the line between Marks Tey and Sudbury, invested in a mobile lathe which can fix wheels on the go and will work to clear vegetation from problematic areas.

Trains for London will depart five minutes earlier than usual during the morning peak time, from October 9 to December 8, to help maintain arrival times and trains on regional routes will be modified with improved sanders which dump sand onto the tracks while braking to prevent the wheels slipping.

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